The Best Bread Cloches You Can Buy Right Now
When you've got a little time at home, whipping up some freshly baked bread is one of the most satisfying and simple cooking projects we can recommend. Once you've let your dough rise and kneaded it into the perfect consistency, the question is how will you bake it. Enter: the bread cloche. The traditionally clay container contains the dough in the oven for a perfect rise and crispy crust. We opted to test out a few of the most popular bread baking vessels using a traditional sourdough. Some fared better than others, and you can read on to learn which bread baking cloches are worth the investment.
What Is a Bread Cloche?
Traditionally, a cloche is an unglazed stoneware dome that is first soaked in water and then placed over the dough as it's baking to mimic the quality of a professional oven. The trapped steam is what gives the bread its crackly, blistered, golden-brown crust—but we found that our favorite bakeware and methods relied on cast iron which trapped enough steam during baking for the same result, and also ensured a crisp crust on the bottom of the loaf. Our testing cloches ran the gamut from cast iron to silicone, deep and circular to rectangular or oval shapes. All have a particular effect on the quality of the loaf.
Our Testing Process
We put seven bread cloches to the test by trying out a trusty basic sourdough recipe in each and ranking them by how convenient they were to use and the quality of the resulting loaf. Three of them produced stellar results: a cloche for the baker who's looking for reliably flawless boules and batards, a versatile value pick that resulted in bread just as beautiful and delicious as the kitchen splurges, and a reliable workhorse you may already have in your kitchen that's perfect for first-time bakers.
What to Look For in a Bread Cloche
The tight seal is key. Our least favorite loaves were baked in cloches that let too much steam escape, resulting in flatter bread. The design and overall ease of use played a huge factor in our ranking too: Low-sided pans made it safer to score the dough without burning your hands on the hot pan, and convenient handles were a must when handling pre-heated cast iron. You might need to consider if you're happy with circular boule styles, or want something with more room to play with shapes like a longer baguette or a rectangular loaf. The price point is also a factor-- if you're dedicated to bread baking you might be willing to splurge, versus if you want a multi-use tool that won't break the bank it might affect your choice in cloches.
After testing, these three cloches came out on top:
The Challenger Bread Pan
Out of the seven bread cloches we tested, the Challenger Bread Pan yielded our favorite loaf of bread. It's your go-to if you're serious about your sourdough. Our loaf had an open and uniform crumb, great oven spring, and a crisp crust with a rich color thanks to the dark cast iron. While it was one of the heavier cloches we tested, the handles on the lid made it easy to cover and uncover even when hot, and the short sides made it convenient to safely score the dough without burning yourself. The oblong shape makes it possible to bake both boules and batards, and though it's a single-use piece of cookware, if you're looking for consistently impressive bread, the Challenger delivers.
Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven
Despite the difference in price point between the Challenger Bread Pan and the Lodge, these two were neck and neck when it came down to comparing boules. With a pleasantly springy crumb and a stunning crust—shatteringly crisp and blistered with well-defined ears—the Lodge Cast Iron held its own against the pricier cloches. Like the Challenger, the short sides make scoring hassle- (and burn-) free and handles on the lid make uncovering the hot dutch oven easy, though the placement is not as convenient as on the Challenger. While the shape of the Dutch oven restricts you to boules only, having a more multipurpose piece of cookware is a plus.
Le Creuset Dutch Oven
For bread-baking newbies, the Le Creuset Dutch Oven is a classic, approachable piece of cookware that you may already have in your kitchen. The chewy loaf baked in the Le Creuset even surpassed in quality some of the other bread cloches made specifically for the task, and the lid seals tightly trapping in steam for an open crumb and good oven spring. While the tall sides make it a little trickier to score than the others, and you have to check if the knobs and handles on your dutch oven can withstand heat over 375 degrees, this is the cloche to entrust your first few attempts at bread baking.
Emile Henry Bread Cloche
The Emile Henry Bread Cloche was lightweight, with a handle and short sides that made it easy to handle when hot. However, grooves in the bottom of the pan made it tricky to clean, and the shape of the pan limits you to only making boules. The loaf had a decent crust, but didn't compare to the cast iron contenders on our list.
Lekue Silicone Bread Baker
While the Silicone Bread Baker boasts many features that promise conveniences such as being dishwasher safe and acting as an all-in-one mixing bowl, proofing basket, and baking pan, the bread was disappointing. It was heavy, dense, gummy, and noticeably more sour. While it's the cheapest of the cloches we tested, it's worth splurging on slightly pricier bakeware for better bread.
This was our least favorite method of the bunch. The loaf baked flat and dense. It stuck to the bottom of the pan and had to be pried off. The bottom crust was charred and crumbly while the top was unevenly browned and steamed rather than crispy. While the Romertopf is a great piece of cookware to have in your kitchen for another purpose (such as this Romertopf-Roasted Chicken and Root Vegetables), it shouldn't be your go-to for bread baking.
Romertopf, $50 at amazon.com
Enamel Pot (inverted over baking stone)
If you're looking for a DIY cloche that doesn't require purchasing any special bread-making equipment, we gave an enamel pot inverted over a baking stone a try. However, without a tight seal of a traditional cloche, the steam escaped resulting in a flatter loaf with a tight crumb.